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  • 20 2 (2012): 265-293

    Making Time their king: The Christmas Culture and Politics of the Early Modern Inns of Court in Thomas Middletons Masque of Heroes

    Bomin Kim

    New York University

    Probably no other demographic is more frequently mentioned in the

    history of early modern English drama, besides the monarch and the

    people who created and performed the dramatic works, than the Inns of

    Court men. They were creators and performers of plays; they frequented

    the theaters (especially the indoor playhouses within the liberties [Gurr 77])

    as audience and routinely hired playing companies to perform in their

    main halls; singly and collectively they were often dedicatees of

    playwrights and poets; and, most relevant to my present topic, they were

    also creators, connoisseurs, sponsors and performers of masques. In the

    scholarship of early modern literature, however, the masques produced or

    performed by Inns of Court men are under-represented, most studies

    preoccupied with specimens of the genre produced in the context of the

    royal court with issues of high politics and religion as their subject matters.

  • 266 Bomin Kim

    In the spirit of what Patricia Fumerton has usefully, if schematically, called

    a new new historicism which is not so much political as social

    historicism (4), this article participates in the revisionary trend in

    scholarship to bring due attention to the the complexity and

    multifariousness of masque (Laskowski 12) with a case study on Thomas

    Middletons Masque of Heroes, performed at the Inner Temple during the

    1618/9 Christmas season.1

    Masque of Heroes has been recipient of only a limited amount of critical

    attention from scholars, most of them stopping short at merely introducing

    the masque in a summary fashion. With varying degrees of historical

    contextualization and textual analysis, the masque has been represented as

    engaging in such thematic preoccupations as ideological mythologization of

    the legal profession, propagandizing for militant international Protestantism

    in anticipation of the Bohemian crisis, and entertaining but essentially

    slight showcasing of the authors craft.2 For my present purpose, which

    is to interpret the masque in terms of Christmas keeping at the Inns of

    Court illuminated in a sociological and anthropological light, the most

    relevant observation is A. Wigfall Greens that the masques uniqueness lies

    in the fact that it deals with the entertainments and studies of the

    gentlemen of the Inner Temple (122). Green, however, does not set up or

    follow up on the insight with any historical contextualization or textual

    analysis. What were the entertainments and studies like at the Inner

    Temple that the playwright took them up as the subject matter of a

    Christmas masque? This article present a view of the culture and politics

    of the early modern Inns of Court, and the Inner Temple in particular, in

    which Christmas was a season for negotiations between work and play, old

    1 For instances of scholary interest in non-Jonsonian masques and revisionary methodologies, see Wright; Levin; Laskowski; Ravelhofer; Shohet.

    2 Respectively, Raffield 372; Knowless Introduction to Masque of Heroes 1322-24; Bald 255.

  • M aking Tim e their king 267

    and young, and base and gentle. The following discussion of Masque of

    Heroes then attempts to ground the invention of the masque, both the

    folkloric, earthbound and plebeian antimasque and the heroic, superlunary

    masque proper, in the specific time-space of the early modern Inns of Court

    in general and the Inner Temple in particular.3

    * * *

    Inns of Court were first and foremost places for the collegiate life of

    legal professionals at the upper echelons of the common law jurisdictions

    called barristers.4 They also acquired the reputation of being, in George

    Bucks memorable phrase, the third university of England offering what

    would later be called liberal education. If there seems to a tension

    between the two discrete, if not incompatible, functions, that was how

    things actually were. Indeed, the culture of the Inns of Court and culture

    at the Inns of Court revolved around a creative tension between those

    institutional identities and Christmas was the season when negotiation

    between the two came to prominence.

    Each Inn of Court was governed through a hierarchy with three tiers.

    At the bottom were students, or inner barristers (so called either because

    their practice of the common law was limited to the premises of their

    respective houses or because they sat on the inner seats of the pew, or the

    3 I use invention in the sense defined by D. J. Gordon as the most inclusive term for the narrative and its theme (156). Gordon also offers convenient clarifications of related masque terms like device and argument.

    4 For contemporary accounts of Inns of Court, see Dudgale 144-321, and Edward Waterhouss commentaries on Fortescue which also include Henry VIIIs commissioners report on the Inns of Court (525-46). W. Greens work and the introductions to the published records of Inns of Court, although dated, are all useful sources of information. For more recent introductions, see Finkelpearl 3-80 and Prests book-length study. The published records of Inns of Court used for the present article are: A Calendar of the Inner Temple Records (henceforth IT); Minutes of Parliament of the Middle Temple (MT); The Pension Book of Gray's Inn (GI); The Records of the Honorable Society of Lincoln's Inn: the Black Books (LI).

  • 268 Bomin Kim

    bar, as they took part in pedagogic exercises). After certain years of

    academic exercises and keeping commonscollective meals taken in the

    main hall where the members were seated at tables arranged according to

    the principle of rank and senioritythey were eligible for a call to the

    bar, which made them full-fledged barristers, or utter or outer

    barristersmore frequently, though, they were simply called barristers.

    After several years of academic duties and keeping commons, barristers

    were eligible to be called upon to deliver readings (i.e. lectures) during the

    grand vacations of Lent and August. The latest reader then joined the

    governing body of the Inn, the bench, as one of its junior, or puisne,

    members. It was from among these benchers (or readers) that the monarch

    elected serjeants as new additions to the highest tier of the common law

    jurisdiction (the order of the coif), who upon election left their respective

    Inns and joined their professional equals at the Serjeants Inns.

    There was one important demographic that was practically outside the

    pedagogic structure of the Inns, for they were also host to a large number

    of the male offspring of gentry families who, as the Grays Inn bencher

    John Finch put it, had com hither to honor (i.e. confer honour or dignity

    upon [OED 3a]) it (qtd. in Prest 40) rather than for a career prospect in

    law. It is quite likely that such students (if the word can be applicable to

    these members of the Inns at all) easily outnumbered their professionally

    committed counterparts in the junior constituency.5 Most of the documents

    introducing the Inns of Court, written invariably in eulogizing vein, were

    quite explicit about the fact, using it to propagate positive images of the

    Inns of Court, the common law and its practitioners they were advocating.6

    5 An indirect way to approximate the proportion between amateur and professional students is to compare the records of admissions with those of calls. According to Prests calculations, the ratios of the entrants to the barristers called to the bar between 1590 and 1639 ranged from 3.7 to 1 at Lincolns Inn, 4.7 to 1 and 4.8 to 1 at the Inner and Middle Temples, to 10.9 to 1 at Grays Inn (52).

    6 The earliest of such writings, Fortescues De Laudibus (c. 1468-1471), describes how

  • M aking Tim e their king 269

    However, the houses of the law had hardly anything to offer to this

    amateur demographic in the way of formal education of the law. Among

    them, formation of social networks and acquisition of accomplishments

    befitting the social status seem to have been the primary concerns (Prest

    141-3; Charlton 37). In this respect, the Inns were ideally suited to benefit

    from the third universitie of England, by which George Buck actually

    meant the city of London itself with its various cultural and educational

    institutions (including the Inns of Court) where one could acquire Arts

    and Sciences proper and fit for ingenuous and liberall persons (964).

    Supported by family fortune, secure in life prospect, and free from

    academic obligations, amateur residents at the Inns were far better situated

    to exploit the educational offerings of the third universitieand many

    other things the metropolis had to offer as well. It may well be that this

    group of young men were the implicit model of Bucks ingenuous and

    liberall persons. It may be no coincidence that Master of the Revels of

    King James who forged the idea of the third universitie acknowledged

    himself to have been a fellow, and Student (or to confesse a truth) a

    trewand at the Middle Temple (973).

    Whatever their position, seniority and life prospect, all Inns of Court

    men were expected to excel at revel. While the word